It’s so lovely to find a new-to-me golden age mystery, and one that almost lives up to favorites of its era. Murder by Matchlight – which I received through Netgalley, thanks very much – is a Dover reissue of a book originally published in 1945, the story of a murder in a park in London as the war continues to rage across the Channel.
And it was wonderfully enjoyable. The mystery is a lovely puzzle, with the wartime setting, some fun and exotic elements, and sheer happenstance combining into just a whole lot of fun. One suspect says:
“I’d wanted to kill Johnnie Ward—which I didn’t—I shouldn’t have done it in a way that would have brought Scotland Yard to my door next morning. Oh, no. If I’d done it, no one would have been any the wiser. I may be a clown, but I’m an efficient clown.”
Which is a wonderful defense, isn’t it?
I loved the characterizations. The victim was terrific – lovable, in his way, so that the reader can find room for regret at his death … but he also had plenty of truly exasperating ways and habits, and inspired lots of lovely motives. The police refused to follow the “official detectives are always idiots” school of thought, and the young hero-suspect declined to over-involve himself in the case and become an improbable sleuth. And the theatrical folk of the boarding house where the victim (and a bunch of the suspects) lived were marvelous.
(Also: there is a character named Tracey. Mr. Tracey. Heh.)
The setting is equally enjoyable. Set in 1944 and published in 1945, this is a London where nearly every able-bodied man is either at war or on his way, and where the civilians left home are in almost as much danger as their loved ones in actual battle as bombs rain down with alarming regularity. It’s a setting in which a murder investigation – especially, in a way, this investigation – feels almost irrelevant.
“It seems to me that the fact that one ne’er-do-well has met a violent end is not a matter of supreme importance in a world which is in the throes of a convulsion which may destroy civilization itself before we’re through.”
I was almost afraid to click on the author’s name to see his – oh, no, sorry: HER other books. So often I read something by an author new to me, fall in love, and then find that there’s little (or nothing) else out in the world by that writer. But! According to her Goodreads author profile: “She was a very prolific writer, having written forty-eight mysteries under her first pen name, and twenty-three under her second.” Pardon me while I do a bit of a happy dance.
The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.